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CarHub’s Guide to Buying a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle

Many vehicles that were once known as “used” are now identified as “Certified Pre-Owned” or “CPO.” Offering a higher tier of quality than typical “used” cars, these CPO models are essentially premium pre-owned cars that have been carefully inspected and are backed by extended warranties.

Certified Pre-Owned programs first debuted in the luxury-vehicle category in the mid-1990s when a glut of off-lease vehicles came into the market. Lexus was the first to use this term to highlight these gently used cars, touting their great shape and low mileage. Once the terminology took hold, many manufacturers began to refurbish their high-quality used vehicles, and added warranties and special financing programs to ensure buyers experienced a positive used-car purchase and ownership experience.

There are no industry standards in place for certified pre-owned programs, so their requirements can vary from dealer to dealer. Essentially, most Certified Pre-Owned cars are off-lease models, returned to the lessor after the term was up. Because of the strict rules on vehicle leases, most off-lease cars are typically less than five years old, often have fewer than 60,000 to 80,000 miles on the odometer, and usually have had no major bodywork from prior accidents. After a comprehensive inspection, factory-trained mechanics at the dealerships will refurbish or replace damaged or worn parts, and then the dealership includes an extended warranty to reduce uncertainty about the mechanical condition of the vehicle.

If you’re on a tight budget, or prefer to purchase a newer, low-mileage used vehicle, shopping for a Certified Pre-Owned model can be a great way to save money over a new car, while ensuring you’re still purchasing a high-quality vehicle. Because they’re carefully inspected by the dealership and are usually backed by an extended warranty, CPO vehicles also remove some of the risk involved with purchasing a typical used car.

If you’re shopping for a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle, it’s important to familiarize yourself with each manufacturer’s program requirements. Find out what their certification process entails, as well as what the inspection and extended warranty covers. And remember, while Certified Pre-Owned cars offer many benefits, they’re usually more expensive than the non-CPO used cars available from dealers and private parties.

If you are undecided between the CPO programs of two different brands, you can compare their various features side-by-side below:

Compare CPO Programs
CPO Program 1
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CPO Program 2
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